The Grand Mosque: Art-Unparalleled

The Grand Mosque: Art-Unparalleled

By David Belt copyright 2014

In Abu Dhabi, capitol of the United Arab Emirates, lies a marvel of man and stone. The late President Zayed Al Nahyan gave life to the dream of beauty that is now a temple for his people and the final resting place for his body. The Emirates claim their mosque to be the most beautiful in all the world, and they are not wrong. The people there call it the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque; I call it “Art-Unparalleled.”

As I have said before in my articles on Art in Three Dimensions, art is anything with form and style that influences us on an emotional level. As an artist, it is impossible for me walk away from the beauty of the Grand Mosque and not be impacted by it. The magnanimous artwork contained within its white stone walls is breath taking.

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I have been to the Sistine Chapel and gazed up in wonderment of Michael Angelo’s miracle. The mural of flora that cascades the floors and walls of the Grand Mosque is nothing like Michael Angelo’s work, but then again, its not paint. In fact, there is not a drop of paint anywhere within the mosque.

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77 different types of stone are fused together to create the intricate mosaics. The courtyard alone is over 180,000 sq ft, the largest mosaic in the world.

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Of personal interest to me is the rug of the main prayer hall. I have a few, expensive rugs in my home, so I have acquainted myself the identifying marks of high quality, handmade rugs. Upon close inspection, I was able to tell the rug of the main hall was indeed made by hand, moreover, woven into the rug was a series of running boards designed to allow worshippers convenient marks upon which to line up. Finally, I realized the entire rug was continuous and seamless. The picture I was able to take shows less than a third of the over 60,000 sq ft rug. More than 1200 carpet knotters came to the mosque for 2 years to make the rug in place, tying over 2 ¼ billion knots.

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I am a big fan of Swarovski crystals, and I make point of using them in my jewelry as I have come to count on their quality and excellence, but I never dreamed of making anything as expansive as the chandelier that hangs above the main hall. It is the third largest chandelier in the world and is composed entirely of Swarovski crystals and gold.

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The most amazing thing that art does is that it captivates the mind and brings to the forefront that which we dared not imagine before. As I looked beyond the great chandelier, I could not help but stare in awe of the wall behind. I could not read the Arabic calligraphy that decorated the elaborate display, but I did note their meaning and felt the impact of those words. The words were not merely etched into the solid marble wall. The stone was hollowed out and the words were formed by the negative space left within the stone.

As the art spoke to me, it said that we hold our lives to be solid as stone, but the materialism of our lives is immaterial to God. He exists within the otherwise empty space composed of those boundaries held solid by his presence or left empty by his absence. One does not need to be Muslim or even religious to appreciate and feel the impact of the art captured within the stone. That is what makes art so wonderful. It transcends all boundaries drawn by man.

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I later discovered the calligraphy on the wall was the 99 names for God as written in the Koran.

I am still doing my duty from half a world away, but whenever possible I stop to smell the flowers and take in the sites and see the wonders that can be.

Mornings in a Booky House.

1:30 am? 3:15 am? wee hours of the morning…

I finished Darkover Landfall.

6:15, brushing teeth…
I’d like to read the next in the series but I don’t have that one, I think. But I’ll check.

6:23, coffee…
Nope. I have two copies of the third and three copies of the fourth. What a stupid book collection. Who manages this shitpile? Grump.
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6:27 am: Apple for breakfast and feed dogs…

Ooo! I could finally read more Jo Clayton or Sharon Green! Look! This brilliant book collector has finally found the first for both of these series! 20140409-170019.jpg

6:33 am: find a clean shirt…
Eh. Might be hard to hold a straight face while swinging that cover around. What about some re-reads?
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6:37 am: pack lunch, throw dogs outside to pee…
Aaahh! Decision paralysis! *whimper* maybe some of the new books I bought recently? I bought them, I should read them, right?

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6:41 am: crate dogs, find keys…
Oi! Now I’m late for work. Just take them all. Put them all in a grocery bag, let’s go!

11:35 am, lunchtime.

Brilliant. I have ten books but forgot my lunch. Sigh.

Xenofiction Part 4: life, the universe, and everything

How the Other Half Lives, Part 4: Life, The Universe, and Everything

Copyright David Belt 2014

This is the forth and final part of my series on Xenofiction, stories told from the point of view of something other than human. I am endeavoring to write a story from birth to eventuality of a unique non-human species. Along the way, I have learned a great deal about the process of living in order bring forth something original, yet familiar, plausible, yet fantastic, and humane, yet non-human. Now, I am passing the torch of what has burned in my mind and in my heart that it might shed some light on your own world, be it real or otherwise. This final topic will cover the eventualities of this thing we call life.

Why am I here?

This question is the quintessential quagmire of sentient life as each of us vainly stumbles to answer the unanswerable. Rene Descartes gave us the truth “I think, therefore I am,” but its inverse is just as true, “I am, because I think.” We create our own sense of purpose, our own goals, to give our lives meaning.

What such goals would a non-human culture poses? Would they really be so different from our own? What would make their lives complete? These questions are complex and difficult enough to answer in our own lives, but are too often over simplified in fictitious non-human cultures. Some of the worst abusers of over simplified goals would be in the realm of alien invasion plots. Is really plausible for a species to be so socially unified, technologically advanced enough, and to possess sufficient resources as to conquer an entire world, yet forgo any possibly of peaceful coexistence and immediately jump to war as the first line of diplomacy?

When you rule out the fantastic, the mundane remains, and there is nothing wrong with that. Propagation of the species should be at the heart of any culturally fundamental goals, while individual goals are often more selfish: establishing prominence in society, effecting change in one’s life, or raising a family. The more realistic your characters goals, the more real your characters will be. The Host by Stephanie Meyer is great example of a culturally purposed alien invasion. The Souls require hosts for propagation of their species, and they have developed methods and technologies to allow them to conquer whole worlds in a manner that their entire culture deems “humane” with minimal losses of life or resources.

Once we have our goals established, how do we meet those goals? The acquisition of wealth of often seen as an ever present human goal, but in most cases the acquisition of wealth is not our goal. It is a means by which we achieve our goals, and unfortunately, spend the majority of our time doing. What does your species do, day in and day out, to meet its goals? I want my readers to spend a day in the life of alien culture and experience what it is like to be a species that is not their own. We humans worship ourselves multiple times per day before a visage of our own reflection in small temples called “washrooms.” What sort of rituals does this new culture perform in its quest to achieve its goals?

Life as we understand it has a finite existence. How we view death is at least as important as how we view life and weighs heavily on the values we place on existence. These perceptions of life and death would be equally important in a non-human culture. Such perceptions would determine how a species cares for its own as well as how it would value the lives of other species.

For example: I have created a species with a life span of thousands of years. Births only occur every hundred years. They much reach 1200 years before they can become fertile, and become infertile after 2000 years. Therefore, they place a very high value on the lives of their people. They do not kill their own kind. Any faulted death of one of their species is met with swift and severe repercussions. On the other hand, they place very little value on the lives of those sentient species that live for only a few decades and spawn annually, such lives are so short lived and so busied as be beneath their notice on an individual level.

As I struggle with the idea of ending this series, I realize that There is still so much more to explore. Xenofiction is about the exploration of life and the infinite possibilities therein. It cannot be concluded; it has to be lived.

Winter is coming or going or I dunno what

in that piercing cold, not one of the wolves were abroad; the silence ran from cliff to lightless cliff, an almost tangible property in that dark and desolate world.

-Barbara Hambly, The Armies of Daylight

We often find things in books that we relate to in our own lives (“oh yeah, I work with that guy”), but this was the first time I had a life experience that brought more to the book I was reading.

This last winter was cold. It wasn’t cute or quaint or entertaining. It didn’t snow and then get warm the next day. It was cold without reprieve. This cold was utter, was massive.

An evil Cold.

Deep, dark cold, for a long time. Snow on snow on snow on snow… It was so cold that the snow wouldn’t melt under your feet as you stepped on it. A dangerous cold. Frostbite, frozen pipes, damage to the car.

And silent.

Some days were still, so still, like the earth had stopped breathing, waiting for the Winter Queen to shatter her way into this world.

The characters in Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly are experiencing this end of the world coldness. They are fleeing a ruined city, trudging through ice and snow to a hidden Keep miles away.

They pass families or parts of – children, goats, elders – who couldn’t keep up with the group and were left frozen on the path.

The Guards continue to practice every day despite the cold, the gnawing hunger mated to that piercing cold for a true testament to willpower.

And when they finally get to this Keep, guess what? It’s cold there too. A different cold. A damp, underground cold, a heat sink as big as their only defense against these Dark Ones.

What a weird sort of escapism this was for me. I would walk to work, thinking about these poor sods slipping and struggling their way to another cold place. Back home and go to bed early – it’s too cold to bother with anything else, really – reading about them again.

It’s Spring now, which is, appropriately enough, the season during which Time of the Dark concludes its story. The Dark have been vanquished, sent on their way and hope and renewal awaken again.

When I walk to work now the world is once again boring concrete and chain link fences and parking lots, the dark of winter has passed like a long ago dream.

Xenofiction part 3: Culture

How the Other Half Lives, Part 3: Culture

Copyright 2014 David Belt.

Welcome to part three of this series on Xenofiction, stories told from the point of view of something other than human. I have assumed a task of telling a story from birth to death of a unique non-human species. In doing so, I have undertaken a much greater feat than I once believed. And now I am passing on some of what I have learned. This week’s topic covers the unimaginably variable subject of culture.

At this point, our non-human species has been born into the world and started experiencing the world through its unique senses. Another aspect of life that greatly affects our childhood development is the culture which disposes our primary education. Our culture determines how we speak, eat, dress, and behave.

Any sentient species must have some means of communication, even if it not verbal speech. The species I have created develops telepathic communication before it even hatches from its egg, but verbal communication skills come much later in life. The t’ca from C. J. Cherryh’s Chanur novels have a language with a matrix-grammar rather than a linear grammar.

Feeding is genetically encoded on every living creature. Through the senses discussed in part two of this series, creatures can determine on their own what constitutes food, but a sentient species would no doubt develop a nutritional precept of some kind. Some foods maybe selected based on cultural guidance, rather than nutritional value. In Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, the Cullen family of vampires are called vegan, because they only drink animal blood, rather than human blood.

I was eating lunch with some of my shipmates the other day, when the question was asked, “How come aliens in movies are always naked?” which I thought was a brilliant question. It stands to reason that a sentient species advanced enough to develop interstellar travel, at some point would have gone through some form of fashion development. Even if clothing was not needed for protection from the elements, do they have no concept of fashion or modesty or individuality? Human technology has developed to the level that we do not require clothing most of the time, but we continue wear clothes because it is part of our culture. Has this non-human culture developed so differently that clothing of some kind is not worn?

Behavior is the single most defining trait of one’s culture. The most basic concepts of right and wrong are taught or omitted by cultural upbringing. Worldwar by Harry Turtledove is a fantastic comparison of human and alien cultures as his alien race lands on earth at the height of World War II.

The quintessential question of nature vs. nurture is asked again and again in literary prose with no true defining answer. Why do we do the things we do?

Of this truth I am certain: of all the creatures on earth, only man is truly evil.

Evil requires only one thing to exist: sentient thought. Any sentient species will have to battle its own demons through a cultural structure of some kind, and not all will adhere to that structure, either by chance or by choice there will be cultural outcasts that do not behave in accordance to what is deemed “right.” In “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” an adaptation of Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates, Klaatu’s race deems humankind is evil and must be eradicated for the sake of preserving the Earth.

For my part, I have a clutch of twelve eggs from different parents raised by a single guardian. While their cultural bias will be uniform, each will have their own evils to engage or embrace.

One of the scenarios discussed in part one of this series was a story that began “A boy finds a strange egg in the woods.” In this scenario, the unique species is born into a culture other than its native one. How do such alien cultures effect the development of the offspring? How would it compare to one from its natural culture? How well would it be able to integrate into its natural culture? Would it even want to?

Diversity is the spice of life, so don’t let your non-human species become perfect clones of one another (even if they are clones). Establish your cultural norms, then allow your creations to exercise a bit of individuality, and they will be all the better for it.

Next week I’ll be wrapping up this four course meal of Xenofiction with a study on the lifecycles of these fascinating new creations.

Little Free Library

A Little Free Library sprouted in the Olde Towne East community garden late last summer, shortly after Kat mailed me a newspaper article about the initiative.

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We’ve been packing books into it on Sunday afternoons, and it seems to get some use.

People try to use the space for free advertising. There will usually be one or two books that are just trashed (broken in two pieces, covered in goo, etc) but I collect and throw those things away.

Kat mailed me some books to add to the collection after I told her about finding one in our neighborhood. I put out two of those books this last Sunday. We’ll see if they get borrowed!

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X-Space: The Final Frontier

X-Space: The Final Frontier

By David Belt Copyright 2014

REALM Charter School in Berkley, Ca has everything it needs for the secondary education of our future generations, except one thing. Initial school funds opened the school for the business of education, but the students felt the school was lacking one critical element. Eighth grade teacher, Hallie Chen (Ms. Nini to her students) presented her class with this empty room and asked her students, “What do you want out of this space for your school?”

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The students’ answers were unique in thought but united in concept.

“I want have a space to learn and be more focused.”

“I want to learn about music history.”

“I want a place where I can relax and read and discover.”

In short, they wanted a library, but the students aren’t calling it a library. They are calling it the X-Space. From the algebraic variable X, meaning anything (even the imaginary and irrational), the students want to turn this empty room into a space where they can learn anything.

The X-Space

This model mockup shows the students’ vision for the room, but as school funds have run out, the students are turning to Kickstarter in order to raise the necessary $75,000 for books, building materials, computers, software and subscriptions.

You can read more about and contribute to this worthy cause here:

Hyperlink: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1903209704/xspace-a-library-designed-and-built-by-its-student

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Re-read central again with gusto this time

Ok. Had an idea.

I’ve been getting Book Club Postcards about ya’ll’s interests in re-reading your faves after my post about being too drama queen to read anything new.

Additionally, some dipshit has been buying multiple copies of old faves to re-read. (*ahem*)

So! :) genius idea… Drumroll…

Pick a book (or twelve) to re-read within the next twelve ( or 24) months. Discuss on your blog with one, two, 47, posts. Pick up extra copies when you find them at book sales or wherever and mail them (like in a package, yo, with a stamp) to whomever* expresses an interest.

Note the effort as “re-read central”.

The end.

Spread the booky love.

Don’t necessarily involve me or ask permission or “how to”… You all know how this book love thing is done. You don’t need me! I will likely not have head space to respond to it all but if you can, post a link in the commentary please or tag me on tweeterz, it would be fun for me to watch the posts and packages exchange.

*gaugh! Is there a plural for “whom”? Whom as in “many”, like “send a whole bunch of frikking books to a whole buncha different people.”20140318-231101.jpg

Guess the Book.

Heh heh! There’s a read-a-long gearing up for this one. (Link below)

It’s such a distinctive book that I though some of you might know it on sight.

Dunc’s been working this volume for ten days, he’s totes absorbed and at that percentage in a paper book that’s between half and three quarters.

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Can you guess it, folks?

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These are such gorgeous books, an example of how we wish all of our faves were published.

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For the purposes of this post, which would you like to see done in this manner?

p.s. Kat- I may need you to send Vol 1 back to me, he’s indicated that he wants to re-read it.

Senses: Xenofiction Part 2

How the Other Half Lives, Part 2: Experiencing the World

Copyright David Belt 2014

Last week, I began a series into the infinite expanse of Xenofiction, stories told from the perspective of something other than human, covering some the dos and don’ts of creative literature. In Part 1, we gave witness to the miracle of birth and the variety of options for non-human procreation. Now that our inhuman babies have been born, how will they experience the world?

Humans have five natural senses used to interpret the world around them: Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. It is with implacable continuity that otherwise brilliant writers, the world over, by insistence or by oversight, write non-human characters that experience the world in the exact same way as humans. Please, I beseech you: Let non-humans be non-human!

In my research, purposed at crafting a non-human species, I have explored each of the five common senses and asked: How will this species use that sense? Then, I went one step farther and asked this newly form creature: Do you have any other senses, not common to humans?

Sight: All creatures must see the world around them, though not necessarily with two forward looking eyes. The primary purpose for two forward looking eyes is for depth perception to judge distance to a target. Ecologically speaking, it does follow that predators rise to the top of their specific food chains and thus become the dominant species. So, two forward looking eyes are practical in many cases of sentient life. I, myself, am using creatures with two forward looking eyes for this very reason.

But it doesn’t have to be that simple. How do those eyes relate to human? Do they see the same color spectrum? Do they see anything other than refracted light? I have created a species that can see the auras that surround all living things.

Hearing: Hearing varies widely from species to species on earth, so it reasons that a non-human species would have very different hearing. The range of frequency and volume may be greater or worse than human, or may not exist at all. An important aspect to keep in mind about sound is that it causes vibrations. A non-human species may perceive those vibrations with something other than what we consider ears.

Bats use their hearing for navigation via a sonar-like ability called echolocation. This ability is carried to an extreme in Star Carrier: Deep Space by William H Keith as his Slan see exclusively by echolocation.

Smell: The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix is an excellent example of xenofiction using a creature’s sense of smell as the nearly blind hound relies primarily on his sense of smell to experience the world.

Taste: This may be the most varied of all the senses, as not even members of the same species will have the exact same tastes. Additionally, there are species that use taste for purposes other than sampling food. Several varieties of lizards taste the air as a means of exploring their surroundings. As I have created a lizard-like species, I have adopted this particular option.

Touch: The sense of touch is universally found in every life form, many of which compensate for shortcomings in other senses by way of specializes forms of touch. As I said before, sound wave cause vibrations in the air, a species may be otherwise deaf, but able to interpret sound in some way by feeling such vibrations.

Clifford Simok’s Spheres in Project Pope use their unique touch for both hearing and communication.

Natural plants experience the world entirely through their sense of touch, so it only follows that sentient plant would rely heavily on their own sense of touch. It is alluded that J. R. R. Tolken’s Ents of Fanghorn from The Lord of the Rings possess a special sense of touch which includes a form of sensory navigation, as they can feel what direction they are travelling in.

Extra Sensory Perception: As writers cross the chasm of “what if,” a broad spectrum of unique senses that do not exist in humans emerges. Many of these senses include forms of psychic abilities, electromagnetic detection, and the variable uses of antennae.

Whatever your flavor, let your unique creations, look, touch and taste unique. The end product will be more enjoyable for your readers and more challenging for your writing as these characters explore the world around them with their own unique senses.

Join me again next week as I put on my anthropology hat and explore non-human cultures.